Our premise for much of this book is that, when fathers share care for young children, this has the potential to be beneficial for them, their partners and families and, on a broader scale, for the alleviation of longstanding gender inequalities. Yet, in spite of gradual transformations in popular understandings of fathers as caregivers, the time mothers typically spend on periods of leave and juggling full-or part-time work with primary care responsibilities continues to generate disproportionate burdens on them and hamper the development of their working selves. While external forms of childcare can partially alleviate this, greater maternal participation in the workforce without reciprocal movement of men towards caregiving moves us towards a ‘universal breadwinner’ approach (Fraser, 1996) that embraces traditionally masculine understandings of career intensity and the ‘ideal worker’, while devaluing caregiving and, ultimately, leaving much of the burden for it with women anyway (Hochschild, 1989). In contrast, movement towards a ‘universal carer model’ (Fraser, 1996) characterised by greater sharing of both care and paid work by men and women has the potential to alleviate this maternal care burden while also addressing difficulties with high intensity work cultures and opening up possibilities for men to move beyond the shackles of dominant masculinities (Elliott, 2016).
It is against such a context that this book has engaged with the journeys of heterosexual fathers who already have broken with established practice to take on an equal or greater share of early years caregiving for young children. Having carried out a detailed examination of existing literature on both fathering in general and ‘involved’ fathers, and explored the impact and significance of different policy approaches to paternal early years involvement, we went on to delve deeply into the experiences of a sample of UK fathers with a range of different approaches and arrangements to the sharing of care. Among other things we explored what prompted them to take on such arrangements; what the process of their transitioning into such roles involved; how roles and responsibilities became distributed; how they came to see themselves as caregivers as compared to their partners; what challenges they faced and what limits there were to the scope of their caregiving; and how their experiences inside the home compared with those in parenting spaces, institutions and networks outside it.